CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – Over the past few years, a large number of South African motorists have ditched their sedans and hatchbacks in favour of vehicles offering increased ride height and more commanding driving positions. There has been a similar exodus from the sportscar segment, with some consumers seeking extra practicality (without being prepared to lose out on performance) and thus opting for performance SUVs. 

In 2017, Hyundai Automotive South Africa revealed its own midsize "warm SUV" in the shape of the Tucson Sport, which gained a bespoke body kit and model-specific alloy wheels, and boasted an uprated version of the firm’s familiar 1,6-litre TGDi petrol engine. 

The local arm of the South Korean firm has now given the facelifted Tucson the same treatment, plus extra athleticism by tuning the engine to produce even higher outputs than before. 

At the launch of the facelifted Tucson Sport in Cape Town, we slotted in behind the wheel of both the petrol variant and the newly introduced diesel derivative, sampling them on tarmac, a slice of gravel and, yes, even Killarney International Raceway. But more on the latter in a bit...

Brawny engine(s)

The 1,6-litre petrol engine remains but, for the facelifted Sport, Hyundai has handed it some extra oomph (an additional 19 kW and 35 N.m, to be exact), upping the turbopetrol four-pot’s outputs to a neat 150 kW and 300 N.m of torque. The seven-speed dual-clutch ’box to which the engine is coupled has been upgraded, too, Hyundai SA says, ensuring power and torque are optimally delivered to the front axle for improved performance. 

Churning out the same peak power figure as the 1,6T is a newly added forced-induction diesel powertrain. However, the chip-tuned 2,0-litre four-cylinder oil-burner edges its petrol-powered sibling in the torque department, offering a healthy 460 N.m. In addition, the 2,0D Sport is equipped with an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. The introduction of the diesel is for the seemingly obvious reason of offering a more fuel-efficient option, although most buyers will probably be swayed by its torque advantage.

During the media briefing, a spokesperson from Hyundai SA said although the facelifted Tucson Sport variants offered more than their less-powerful stablemates in terms of dynamic ability, they were by no means full-fat "N" offerings (the South Korean firm is, of course, likely developing such models). The SA-spec models do pack a punch, though.

Exterior to match

Easily distinguishable from non-Sport models, each of the most athletic Tucson derivatives is fitted with a larger front spoiler lip, chunky side sills and a faux rear-diffuser housing four tailpipes. The model-specific 19-inch alloys are finished in black, lending the SUV an imposing stance. 

Compared with the exterior, the cabin looks modest, with no interior items – apart from the carbon-fibre-look trim on the facia of the 2,0D – screaming "Sport". It is a comfortable space, though, and generously specced, offering myriad features such as a seven-inch infotainment unit with screen mirroring functionality, a reverse-view camera, leather seats and a panoramic sunroof. 

En route to Killarney

First, I got acquainted with the facelifted Tucson Sport in 1,6T guise, before later hopping into the diesel-powered variant. The seating position is high, as you would expect in an SUV, while the leather-clad pews are comfortable. 

Immediately, I notice the petrol model's throttle response is quite abrupt. The 245/45-size Hankook Kinergy GT rubber up front screech on pull-away even with moderate throttle inputs. I was expecting the diesel model, with 160 N.m more, would exhibit even more wheel spin. Surprisingly, the opposite proved true. 

On the highway, I switch from comfort to sport mode (the 2,0D has an additional eco mode, too). The upgraded exhaust system emits a slight pop each time the auto ’box shifts to another of its seven ratios. The 2,0D, on the other hand, plays the sort of "hum" we've come to expect from engines of its kind. But, as the sound is of the softer variety and the cabin is well insulated, it proved unobtrusive.

Overtaking in both derivatives is a cinch. The upgraded dual-clutch transmission is generally quick through the gears but can at times seem indecisive. The torque-converter feels less so and on the open road, this transmission mated to the diesel engine proves the better (although not quite as sporty) powertrain. On-road manners for both versions are good with the Tucson Sport providing a fairly comfortable ride, too.

On our route we encounter a section of gravel road. Although it might be a city-orientated front-wheel-driven SUV (and one with extra kit resulting in less ground clearance), the Tucson Sport negotiates the path with ease, with only the odd jolt here-and-there relayed through those large wheels. 

Round a racetrack

Yes, you read that right. Although it may not be the Tucson Sport’s natural habitat, we did get the chance to put the SUV's dynamic capabilities to the test at Killarney. Here, the petrol predictably proves the sportier of the two models. Even with its added grunt, on track the 2,0D feels fairly pedestrian and even slightly underpowered. In comparison, the 1,6T is nimbler round the bends and more fun to pilot.

Summary

Hyundai SA sold all 512 units of the pre-facelift Tucson Sport, rendering it a more exclusive offering than the standard models. It'll be a similar case with the facelifted version, as the local arm of the Korean brand says it will be supplied with just 50 kits per month (with each Tucson Sport coming at a premium of R65 000 over a standard Elite model). However, the addition of a diesel derivative has certainly broadened the Sport range's appeal.

Which one to get? Objectively, the diesel. It's comfortable, fairly frugal and offers dollops of low-down torque. However, it lacks the shouty characteristics of the 1,6-litre turbopetrol ... and that's why you buy a sporty SUV after all, isn't it?



FAST FACTS

Models: Hyundai Tucson Sport 1,6T/Hyundai Tucson Sport 2,0D 
Price: R654 900/R664 900
Engine: 1,6-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol/2,0-litre 4,cyl, turbodiesel
Power: 150 kW/150 kW
Torque: 300 N.m/460 N.m
0-100 km/h: 8,9 sec/9,3 sec
Top Speed: 201 km/h/201 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,9 L/100 km/7,9 L/100 km
CO2: 165 g/km/164 g/km
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch/8-speed automatic
Service Plan: 5-year/90 000 km